Guest post: The trend is choosing a temp job over a full-time job


This is a guest post from Ali Brown.

Two months ago, I wasn’t satisfied with my job. I was a communications/administrative assistant. I’d been with the company almost two years, and it was clear there were no opportunities for advancement.

So, just weeks after turning 26 years old, I went to a temp staffing agency and I took a temp job..

I’m not a risk taker, and I was hesitant because accepting the new job meant giving up paid sick time, vacation time, and health insurance, which my employer paid for, and I have no guarantee that I’ll be employed in January.

But the enjoyment I have after a 10-hour day confirms that I made the right choice. And I’m not alone. Nearly 28,000 people became temporary workers in September, and I don’t think it’s all due to people not being able to find full-time work. I think it’s because in many cases, a temp job is better than a full-time job.

I know no one dreams of being a temp worker, but it might be the best alternative in today’s economy. Here’s why you should do what I did:

1. Focus on building your resume.
Presently, I work with HTML and XML for a well-known Internet retailer, instead of answering phones and ordering office supplies. My temp job is better for my resume because I’m building skills. The full-time jobwas a dead end. The skills I’m acquiring make me more qualified for full-time jobs I want, at this company or other companies in Seattle.

2. Think of your network in a job, not your longevity in a job.
A temp job where you do interesting stuff with interesting people is better for your network than bad full-time job. Right now, I enjoy my work much more than what I was doing before, so I have a better disposition for meeting people in my professional life.

Studies rarely cite long-term viability as a key component of job satisfaction, but liking who you work with always makes the list. My coworkers are intelligent, highly motivated people who take initiative — and they’re young. Everyone in my department is under 35, including my boss. The company culture is driven and innovative. Ideas are encouraged. The department has expanded greatly within the past year, so a lot of people are new. They are learning what works together, and working very, very hard to accomplish common goals.

3. Get your own health insurance.
When I was a kid, health insurance through my mom’s job was too expensive, so I didn’t have insurance until I was 22, when I started my first job after college.

My previous employer paid for my health insurance, which I think is rare. I knew I wanted health insurance, even if it was less coverage than I had before. I did the math, and purchasing my own health insurance was several hundred dollars cheaper than a monthly COBRA payment.

Now I pay for a plan with a higher deductible and fewer benefits, through the same health insurance company. I don’t have dental or vision coverage, so I’m relying on the glory of being 26 and generally healthy.

4. Shore up finances.
I can defer student loans while I’m unemployed, and save almost $300 a month by doing so. And I can file for unemployment. After this, I will be able to cover rent and groceries, but nothing else. So I think I’ll be able to scrape by for a few months, or I’ll take a retail job with a significant pay cut, while I look for suitable full-time work.

5. Look for stability somewhere else.
The stability of my personal life counters my unstable work life. Having a long-term boyfriend who is supportive helps keep me calm and look at the big picture. My friends, also in their 20s, are trying to find what work they enjoy, and what they want from their careers. We commiserate about working jobs we don’t like to pay the bills, and celebrate promotions or new jobs. Having a sense of community makes a big difference. A supportive social circle counters the weight of looming unemployment.

This is a guest post from Ali Brown.

57 replies
  1. Don
    Don says:

    Have nieces, nephews and kids working temp in various cities and they love it also. Getting variety of experience and some working two different jobs. Others moonlighting from the temp job following dream job requiring evening performances. I think temp jobs best for young and old. Ages 35 – 60 the permanent position with benefits seems more desirable. Primary lesson from your post I took was: “never shy away from building a resume or gaining varied experience”.

  2. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Each state has a different regulation as to how to classify temp workers. Technically, when you’re a temp worker, you are either working for yourself or your temp agency. So I’m not sure everyone who works a temp job can qualify for unemployment at the same time, because if you are employed by the temp agency, you are obviously not unemployed. But you can still claim unemployment if you are self-employed, at least in New York state. Again, each state is different, but I think you should consider the ethicality of working a paying job and claiming unemployment at the same time.

    • Hope
      Hope says:

      Jamie…while I think this is a good post, that’s what jumped out at me, too. I’m fairly certain that’s not possible here in Michigan, but even if it is, I question the ethics of it.

  3. Ali Brown
    Ali Brown says:

    To clarify, I am currently employed by a temp agency. When my contract expires, I will be unemployed, at which point I will consider applying for unemployment.

    • Hope
      Hope says:

      Duh. Sorry…should have read below, but didn’t see the reply connected. I applaud your approach of self sufficient action. And I’m fairly certain our household contributes to the bottom line of your employer. :)

  4. Sally
    Sally says:

    I really enjoyed your article, Ali. After being laid off, I spent months looking for full-time work and recently found a freelance job. The company doesn’t know how long they’ll need me so there’s no long term employment guarantee, but I’m doing work that I really enjoy and I get to do it for a great company. After reading Linchpin by Seth Godin and some great articles on Brazen, I can’t help but change my view on careers and employment. Best of luck to you!

  5. Erin
    Erin says:

    I agree with Jamie. If you are gainfully employed and receiving a paycheck (and able to cover your expenses) you should think twice about collecting unemployment. There are a lot of people out there who could use those resources more than *you* (not just Ali)–especially if you are unemployed by choice (ie. you left your job on your own accord, you weren’t let go).

    That said great post with great advice. Ali is obviously thinking outside the box and building her resume on her own terms. Very cool.

  6. Chris
    Chris says:

    I particularly agree with the first reason listed to take a temp job: it can often build a resume far more effectively than a full-time, secure job which involves no learning, no challenge, and no special skill.
    The only advice I would add is to take a careful look at your life responsibilities before leaving a full-time job. This post obviously speaks to unattached 20-somethings, but if you’ve got serious debt, a child, or other responsibilities that demand financial commitment from you, set goals to reach those commitments before you search for a more fulfilling job.

  7. Nurse Sourcer
    Nurse Sourcer says:

    Right on the money! When I first graduated I signed-up w/a temp agency & loved it so much, I stayed for 5 years! Granted this was back in Germany where the pay was better than here in Florida for temp workers & benefits were included… However, til this day I’d suggest to anyone in a pinch for money, to go temp for exposure & to be catapulted into the job market! Great guest post, Ali!

  8. Brad
    Brad says:

    I admire your ambition and resolve to advance your career prospects in place of safety and security. And instead of just focusing on improving your skills to enhance your future job prospects, I would encourage you to consider working toward the possibility of total self-dependence by building your own business. It is a path I chose a long time ago, and now no one can take away my "job security." While many of my contemporaries are out of "work" and seriously worried about their futures, it is not something I need contend with. Although self-employment and building a business is not right for everyone, if you have the discipline to not live on everything you make and start building a nest-egg, after a few years you might just find yourself in the enviable position where no one can touch you. Good luck!

  9. Glenda
    Glenda says:

    Ali – I commend you in your ability and courage to leap out of that dead-end job and make something more of yourself. After 25 years with the same company, I found my position eliminated and I now work as the receptionist – something I hoped to do 15 years from now when I’m 65…Yes – I’m ancient and over the hill. But, I have started my own home-based business to help make up the difference of the paycut which was substantial. If you can do anything at all for yourself while you are young…DO IT!!! – There are many ways you can be your own boss and I love showing new people young & old, how they can do it too! Congrats & I look forward to more posts from you on Brazen!

  10. Kandeezie
    Kandeezie says:

    The title should read: “Trend: Choosing a temp job over a full-time job when you’re young, just starting out, have no mortgage or kids, and not much to lose”. Some of the points are good though. It would be nice to hear from more established people on how they take calculated risks to gain experience by limiting their time at a specific employer or department.

  11. Kathy Zucker
    Kathy Zucker says:

    I am not sure if you qualify for unemployment benefits if you voluntarily quit your full-time job to take a temp position. The two times I have applied for unemployment in NYC, the labor dept really looked into my eligibility; I have had friends get denied benefits. probably shouldn’t count on unemployment to back up temp work.

  12. Michela
    Michela says:

    I’m 41 and left a permanent job one year ago that paid quite well to start my own freelance business. I have a mortgage and a 2 year old son. It was the best move I ever made. My previous job was ok, but I didn’t feel fulfilled or engaged every day. Now, I love my work. I’m enthusiastic every day to work for my clients and even though I’m making far less money, I feel wildly successful. I’ve learned a great deal that I never would have at my previous job, like how to sell my services, and I’ve expanded my network exponentially. Taking risks in your career is not just for 20-somethings. It’s for anyone who has courage and won’t “settle” for an unfulfilling job. Yes, you do have to ensure you can meet your financial obligations, but there’s a fear associated with leaving the security of a permanent job that’s often unfounded. Being stuck in a sucky job can sometimes make you feel like it’s all you deserve. It can be depressing and demoralizing. It shouldn’t prevent you from taking the plunge, however. You just need confidence in your abilities. Something that I’ve found, actually grows very quickly when you don’t have the security blanket of a permanent job underneath you. Good luck, Ali!

  13. Dani
    Dani says:

    As others have said, the unemployment laws vary by state. Here in California, you can get unemployment if you quit your job and get a temp job which then ends. But many states may look at it more critically than that.

    One correction to an earlier commenter: collecting unemployment doesn’t take resources away from anyone else. When you collect unemployment, you are collecting money that your employer paid into the system while you were working.

  14. Dani
    Dani says:

    I spent my 20s bouncing from job to job, collecting experience and building my network. Not because I thought “Hey! I need to try different things and meet new people!” – I already knew exactly what I wanted to do (write) and the majority of my network has come from volunteer work and non-work communities. Just because I was still learning how to choose a healthy workplace and was a compulsive underearner.

    Now I’m 32 and I’m “settled”, but I still get to see my wife go through the temp process – and a lot of clients, because I have been working in career centers for over a year. There are serious downsides, at least here in the Bay Area:

    1. In the current economy, relying on temp agencies can mean long periods of unemployment that you don’t have any control over, during which you’re not building that work network or getting those different experiences.

    I’ve seen many people sign up with several temp agencies at the same time, and still not have any work available at any of them.

    Instead, they could be staying in the dead-end bill-paying job, and using their free time to build their networks by volunteering in fields that interest them.

    2. People can defer student loans while unemployed – hey, my wife has been doing it for years in between short-term jobs – but the interest still mounts up. Which can leave you with higher payments, and a company that’s less willing to negotiate payments, when a lower-paying full-time job comes along.

    I don’t know; I thought I’d have a longer list of counter-arguments, but there aren’t actually a lot of arguments on that list to respond to. It seems like it boils down to “If you hate your job, leave it; anything will be better than that, because you’ll meet more people and try more things and there’s always unemployment to back you up!”

    But the one lesson I learned from quitting jobs I hated (HATED) with nothing to back me up, repeatedly, was that I end up a lot better off when I finally stayed in a job I hated (the most), searched for one that would be more satisfying, and put up with the dead-end stressful stuff until I could get out.

    It only took maybe 9 months, even in this economy, of intermittent searching interspersed with working on my own business, before I was in a job I liked, at a company with room for advancement, making 50% more than I had been, with a lot more free time to continue working on my writing and my own business. It’s a nice change from constantly leaping into gigs that pay too little, or pay well for too little time, and living hand to mouth in between.

    • Shannon
      Shannon says:

      I have one more counter-argument: most temps get stuck with the most mundane grunt work like making copies and going on coffee runs. I’m puzzled by the people claiming that temp jobs are a great way to develop new skills. Companies don’t waste resources on training and educating temp workers.

      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        It depends on the company and the temp–and the temp agency. My office hires temps who only need training in policies and procedures, not skills. And we pay them too much to want them to spend their work time getting coffee.

      • Kristen
        Kristen says:

        I would also be concerned with this. When I graduated college, I did contract work for 3 years with Robert Half. I did actual accounting positions filling in for people who had quit or gone on extended medical leave (not clerical) – one was leading a small billing department of 8 people.

        But when I started at my first full-time job, they told me I had no experience despite the 3 years of long term contracts. When I pointed that out I was informed that temp work didn’t count!!! I was treated as a new grad with zero experience despite the 3 years of working…

        I personally loved doing contract work and feel I learned a lot from it, but I would be hesitant to point it out too much on a resume as many do view it as clerical.

      • Pigbitn Mad
        Pigbitn Mad says:

        And I am puzzled as to why the stupidest people can get temp jobs. Yet when I apply, I never hear back with any offers of work. With rare exceptions, any temps I encountered on the job were absolute incompetent morons. Seems to be a prerequisite because anyone with a brain would probably start to make waves.

  15. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    First rule of wing-walking: Don’t let go of a handhold until you have a grip on the next one. Don’t quit job #1 until you have secured job #2 — unless you have a spouse/s.o. who is supporting you while you are unemployed.

  16. anon
    anon says:

    If there are going to be guest posts, I hope in the future they can be edited. There are glaring typos. “jobwas” in the first bullet and “better for your network than bad full-time job” in the second.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      All the typos are mine, not Ali’s. And, really, if typos bothered you so much, you wouldn’t read my blog at all, because every post I’ve ever done has had at least one typo.


      • Jonha @ Happiness
        Jonha @ Happiness says:

        You are cool at that Penelope, you get your facts and ideas straight! People need not to worry about your typos, we all commit little mistakes like that from time to time!

        What I really like about the article is that she seems to be happy doing what she does. I’m stuck with the same company for more than 3 years now, and it indeed feels like a dead end. I am hoping to be an intern for a bank in Singapore, of which they held a contest and it’s pretty tough because I am competing against many other great people in the social media field but I am not losing hope. With all the good things you write, I couldn’t help but be inspired and keep on keeping on.

        Here’s a link to support me for the campaign just in case you and your readers would like to show some support :)

  17. SlinDigitalCameras
    SlinDigitalCameras says:

    I like what Ali said about looking at a job as a network opportunity… Our parents were raised to get a job and die with it. Now we must adapt and some studies show that over a life now we change almost 10-20 jobs…

  18. Jay Forte
    Jay Forte says:

    I am a career and life coach and offer a new perspective to those I work with – and I call it a “flexible free agent.” Since it is tougher to get a job today – particularly one that plays to what you are good and and what you like to do – consider building a temp job around what you like to do and what you could offer to others. Then string several of these part time jobs together to make it full time. Here’s and example: I have a friend who was job hunting for a year after being laid off from a management position. She is an exceptional writer and connector – she brings people together effectively and easily. She is also passionate about cooking and food. She approached several restaurants in town and offered to do their PR and marketing for them. She helps them coordinate special events (wine tasting, launching new products), develops surveys for their employees to use with customers, created a newsletter from the restaurants to stay in touch with their customer base, etc. The restaurants need the help but can’t afford a full time position. She does this kind of work (she is good at it and loves doing it) for several restaurants – so she can control how much and how often she works. All of her work is in her best area, she responds to a real need, and the businesses get to use the service when they need it and do not need to include it in their overhead all the time. Now she is success and actually loves what she does. There are so many other examples of this to redefine how we approach work.

    So when you think of temp job, consider flexible free agent – I personally think this will be the way so many of us will work in the future – doing what we are good at and passionate about doing – as outside contract employees, for organizations but only when they need the service. And we do this work for several organizations moves it from temp to full time.

  19. Anca
    Anca says:

    Hi, Ali. You and my boyfriend work for the same company. And it’s possible I’ve crossed paths with your bf at various vegan haunts. Are you happy with the temp agency you used? I’ve thought about doing temp work but none of the agencies here in Seattle really stood out without personal recommendations.

  20. MrLibra
    MrLibra says:

    At 29, in a temp job at the moment, and single, I really believe that being in a steady, long-term relationship, I would feel better too. Especially because two people bringing in income is better than one, and you can be there to support each other emotionally, etc.

    Only problem is, most women I meet are unhappy that my career and life aren’t all in perfect order and lined up. I’m pretty sure I haven’t met the right one yet, but still – seems a lot of them have high, almost unrealistic expectations.

    Which is sad, because I’ve been a successful business-person in the past – I’m just having a bit of a down year.

    Thanks for the guest post Ali!

    • Thomas
      Thomas says:

      Wow MrLibra, I’m also a Libra man, you and I are living the same life. I successfully operated businesses as well. And man, a great girl would make all the difference. Except. lol, I hear the same things you do from women.

      • MrLibra
        MrLibra says:

        Thomas, I am both relieved and saddened to hear that we share the same conundrum (women with almost unrealistic expectations of stability). I think I’m going to get a dog instead. Here’s wishing us decent guys have some better luck!

  21. Amy
    Amy says:

    Do be careful about student loans. When you are unemployed, you cannot “Defer,” although you can request what’s called a “Forebearance.” That means that they’re happy to let you skip payments for up to a year and just add your interest to the principal. In the first years that you are paying on student loans, that interest is most of the payment! That means that your principal (the amount you borrowed, from which interest is calculated) is actually growing.

    The bottom line is that you are borrowing against your future, and you have no guarantees about your future.

    -Signed, someone who used Forebearance at the start of my payback schedule and has paid MANY THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS MORE because I didn’t want to pay on them then.

  22. Gustavo
    Gustavo says:

    I usually read your blog, I found this post very interesting and I would like to share my experience as idea for future readers.

    I am employed at a big internet infra-structure company, but I saw that I can raise my budget creating my own sites network with content – you can check this brazillian blog poemas de amor as an example. What I mean is if you got a job or not you can work and grow by yourself creating websites with content.

    As your network grows you can start with small budget based on adds and when you reach high traffic you can foccus for example on e-commerce. As you already got high traffic it won´t be hard to start your own sales – and costs are very low, believe me. The best part here is that

    I don´t intend to stop working at my current job, but I can sum both and simply sum.

    I hope this idea can help others.

    Best regards,

  23. Irina I
    Irina I says:

    I’m hesitant about this advice being good. Are you talking about staying at a temp job for a month or two before you find a new job? Why not just go for a full-time job right away? Why not have looked for a new full-time job when you had your old full-time job?

    A full-time job means a different investment in you by the company and a more long-term thinking from them. In a temp job they’re not investing in your development as much – you’re pretty much disposable to them. Maybe if you can prove yourself in the temp job and move to a full-time position in this company, that sounds worth it. But otherwise…

  24. bokkiest
    bokkiest says:


    I couldn’t agree more with what you have said here because it is also happening to me personally. I first got temp job which then turn not so good and the employer also thinks that my job is not good enough. So, now I am having my full time job from different employer and I love it.

  25. Aaliyah
    Aaliyah says:

    I have definitely embraced temp positions. I’ve never been a 9-5 type person yet for the past 5 years I was working 9-5 and killing myself in the process. I actually left my job after spending the last 2 1/2 years of my 5 years there fighting the company for back pay. Once that situation was done I left, took a month off then started freelancing and working for temp agencies. And I’m enjoying every bit of it.

  26. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    I think this would be great advice if you can actually find a temp job. I moved to Seattle for 9 months to escape Detroit’s 16% unemployment rate. When I got to town I went to every temp agency, I was rubbing shoulders with JD’s and MBA’s who were also looking for temp work. (I went to Harvard and owned 3 businesses.) So needless to say the competition was TOUGH! lol…

    Also, the reality is you cannot shore up finances from a temp job. They are short term at best and the pay is menial. Seattle is not as expensive as SF, NYC or Boston, but I was paying 1200 for a postage stamp apartment in Downtown. I was “getting by” lol, uhh eating hummus and crackers.

    A stable personal life. Hmmm. Let’s see. What girl will date a guy, even a very attractive one, who has no money? It’s way different for a girl, if you don’t have a job and are looking, we aren’t going to say “no thanks.” Friends are great, yes, but it’s not like I can blow $20 bucks on beers with my temp job. Wait, I can, but I’d have to downgrade from Triscuits to Saltines and stop buying hummus from Whole Foods and get it from the Bodega.

    Eventually I left Seattle and went back to Detroit. Why? Why struggle? I’m not trying to be a negative Nancy but I think this is unreasonable in a large city. You simply cannot survive on a temp job unless you live with roommates or your parents are helping out.

  27. David
    David says:

    Great advice Ali. I am a freelancer myself and I enjoy what I do. Recently I have started working for some big companies on a part time basis. I also agree with Gustavo, the internet has made it easier for us to diversify our sources of income.

  28. Tina Portis
    Tina Portis says:

    Personally, I think we spend to much time looking for jobs instead of developing our natural God given talents. How many of us have the multiple degrees and are now stuck in careers because of our mortgages, bills and student loans. This post is good for those that are young and have no children. Spend time developing skills and networking. The high paying jobs just aren’t worth the hassle if you’re not happy in them.

  29. Jason H. Parker
    Jason H. Parker says:

    I’m actually a big fan of temporary job positions, and believe that folks ages 20 to 50 can actually find more meaningful work by accepting a temporary position. I recently met a young lady who worked for ten years doing almost the exact same thing every day, week and month, and finally realized that she’d like to learn something new. She’s going to be starting a temporary position working to build e-learning platforms for a company.

    Thanks for your great thoughts! I’m on a path towards a better position myself, and I’m glad to know that there are success stories out here in the world.

  30. Lisa Best
    Lisa Best says:

    I love you for taking the leap at 26. I am twice your age and took the leap in 2000 after working crappy full-time jobs and always having a fun part-time job on the side. I am a freelancer and or temp person and sometimes I have 3 jobs and sometimes 2 or 1. You learn to save, you meet great people who recommend you so you regularly work if you are good at your job and nice to be around. This is the way of the world now, and we will all be happy and earn well.

    Thank you for the post.

  31. Anoop
    Anoop says:

    Job satisfaction is everything if one is compensated in the long run for their work and has the foresight to take on risk to land a better, more stable and pleasant career. Kudos.

  32. cazza
    cazza says:

    Loved this blog….it really has opened up my eyes to further opportunities. I am 28 and find myself with no real ties, working in a stable position as Sales Manager with a decent salary for almost 3 yrs. I should be happy! But I NEED change! A challenge, soemthing new that will make my brain tick! I love networking and learning new skills. If I stay in this job for much longer no one will want to hire me as its a very specific industry. Risk taking is the way forward… and temping could be the answer for the time being. Thank you!!!

  33. Bev
    Bev says:

    I love your blog. I actually gave up my full time job because an opportunity at a temp job will build my resume in the long run. I felt worried because there’s no health insurance and guarantee I will be hired permanently, but I realized it’s ok to take risk specially if it feels right! Although I’m not planning to stay in temp jobs forever, I want to take this chance to explore, network and learn.

  34. jennifer
    jennifer says:

    Hello am Jennifer from UK i wanna thank Dr Paloma for what he has done for me at first i taught he was scam but until i just decided to follow my mind.i told him that my ex lover which i loved with all my heart left me for another all Dr Paloma did was to laugh and said he will be back to me in 3days time i taught he was lying on the 3rd day my ex called me and said he wanna see me,i was shocked then he came over to my place and started begging that he was bewitched,immediately i forgives him and now we are back and he his really madly in love with me.All thanks to Dr Paloma he indeed wonderful incise you wanna contact him here his is private mail

  35. kasha
    kasha says:

    – I am kasha i lives in uk and i was in a serious relationship with my ex guy for three good years.. One day we were in a dinner party, we had a little misunderstanding which lead to a Quarrel and he stood up and left me at the dinner party. i try to call him but he was not picking my calls so after than i contacted my brother and told him about it,my brother so much love me that he had to see him on my behalf,he told my brother that it is over between us.. Then i contacted a friend of mine that had this similar experience and she directed me to one of the spiritual diviner ( first i thought it was not going to be possible and i contacted him i was ask to come up with a little requirement,so i did what i was ask to do, after 3 days i was in my office when my ex guy called me and was asking me to forgive him and come back to him. i was very surprise it was like a dream to me,so ever since we have been happily married with one kid my lovely baby(Ceslav)…i wish you the best of luck…

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